Last season, the then-ranked No. 17 Baylor Football team demolished Texas State, 42-7 in the third game of the season (if you prefer a happy ending like that one, read this post instead!). Yesterday, the Bears fell to the Bobcats, 42-31 in the 2023 season opener and in the teams’ 10th meeting of the series. The 2022 season had incredible ups and downs with issues on both sides of the ball that lead to the Bears’ 6-7 finish, but yesterday’s performance was nothing short of ghastly and, as noted by many, reminiscent of the 48-45 loss to FCS opponent Liberty (an illegitimate Christofascist “university”) in the first game of the 2017 season. I’m not certain which falter—Texas State or Liberty—is worse in my mind. However, many would have hoped that the Bears’ matchup against Texas State would end with a blowout like last year’s result or even a simple victory, not an implosion on both sides of the ball that ended with junior QB Blake Shapen barely able to move and suffering from an MCL injury.
Texas State did everything right on offense and defense with an especially incredible execution by QB TJ Finley who completed 22 of 30 passing attempts for 298 yards and three TDs with a 16-yard rushing TD. The Texas State roster was full of 71(!!!!) new players following new head coach G.J. Kinne who highlighted a 12-2 2022 season at FCS Incarnate Word. An untrained eye would have to believe that Kinne and his offensive coaches cooked up an NFL-caliber game with six drives ending in TDs and only three concluding in punts. I previously mentioned how excited I was to see the return of Matthew Powledge to Waco as the Bears’ new DC, but perhaps my zeal was premature as the defense was nonexistent against an FCS offense that may as well have belonged to Georgia or Alabama. Finley, the RBs, and the WRs were more or less untouched throughout the entirety of the game with Finley especially having what felt like minutes to connect with his receiving corps due to an immense lack of pressure from the DL. Baylor’s DBs broke coverage or weren’t anywhere close to their assigned targets, so Texas State WR Joey Hobert was open to record 105 yards on 6 catches.
On offense, Shapen was a bright note prior to and during his leg injury in the second half of the game (no matter what fair weather fans may say about his performance!). Shapen completed 21 of 31 passing attempts for 303 yards and 2 TDs and a 9-yard rushing score (essentially even with Finley on stats). Redshirt sophomore QB Sawyer Robertson rotated in at different points when Shapen was struggling with his injury, and recorded 6 of 12 passing attempts for 113 yards and 1 interception. And while Shapen showed vast improvements against Texas State compared to last season’s inconsistencies, the OL was equally vacant, if not lost, confused, and undisciplined. Recording 5 false starts in the first half alone (the Bears had 9 penalties for a loss of 45 yards), the OL consistently allowed the Texas State D to blitz Shapen almost immediately after the ball was snapped. Their numerous (and what felt like consecutive) false starts pushed the Bears back so far they lost advantageous field position and either settled for punts or field goal attempts (may we not forget to praise redshirt sophomore K Isaiah Hankins who made a career-long 53-yard field goal in the first quarter!). When Shapen was given a moment to pass, he connected well with his receiving corps and primarily senior TE Drake Dabney who, according to Baylor Athletics’ Jerry Hill (papa), “had Baylor’s first 100-yard receiving game by a tight end since Ken Hodge had six catches for 121 yards versus Oregon State in 1964” with 6 catches for 101 yards and 2 TDs. Junior Arkansas transfer WR Ketron Jackson Jr. notched 6 catches for 70 yards, redshirt sophomore WR Jonah Burton snagged 5 catches for 88 yards, and junior WR Hal Presley had 4 catches for 83 yards, and junior WR Monaray Baldwin collected 2 catches for 47 yards. The lack of line protection also shut down the Bears’ previously rock-solid running game and star-studded rushing duo of sophomore RB Richard Reese and junior Oklahoma State transfer RB Dominic Richardson, who had 7 carries for 14 yards and 16 carries for 79 yards, respectively.
The team had many concerning aspects with more mentioned among other Baylor fans, alumni, and reporters alike, but seeing the players with little energy and lots of confusion—neither of which seemed to change in the second half—was most dire to me. There’s so much room for improvement and of course the first game of the season is not the end for this new team, but my fingers are crossed for even minor fixes as the Bears face 14th-ranked Utah next week Saturday.